MEDIA reports are apprehensive about the inadequacy of establishment action with regard to anti-militancy drive. In fact, there is a premonition that nearly 300 militants remain at large and an equal number who were arrested have slipped through legal loopholes. There are credible fears that the fugitive militants have regrouped to strengthen militant outfit and are getting ready to strike at the opportune moment.
On ground, there are reasons to worry. The recent daring ambush on a prison van to snatch away three top terrorists has proved that militant outfits have regained a foothold and managed the money and firearms to carry out attacks. These extremists pose a real threat as their whereabouts are not known and as such they can enjoy the advantage of carrying out surprise attack.
The deficits of anti-militancy drive may perhaps be partly linked to the continuous preoccupation of law enforcers in tackling political violence and providing security to VVIPs in the recent past. However, the extremist threats will continue to haunt the body politic irrespective of the political feuds. Therefore, it is time to tighten our belt and stop treating this malaise through the prism of regime-centric compulsions
We may have to ask ourselves if a perception has developed among the terrorist groups that the Bangladeshi state is inherently incapable of meeting their challenge and that it has become soft and indolent. We may have to ascertain if quite a few parties have developed a vested interest in a soft state, a weak government and ineffective implementation of the laws. Simultaneously, are foreign funds flowing substantially to various organisations and groups which serve, willingly or unwillingly, the long term objective of some political parties suspected to be aligned or sympathetic to the regional or international terror network?
Since terrorism of the so-called Islamic extremists have increased in its very nature, thereby demanding changes in the strategy to counter it, are we ready to seriously study the problem, one may ponder. This is natural because we do not witness credible attempts being made to examine links between terrorist groups, the conditions in which they had spawned, the politician-militant nexus and other forms of patronage these groups receive; the proliferation of small arms leading to the growth of private armies etc. The question is, are we trying to appreciate all the factors that contribute to the 'quality and extent' of internal security threats? Another specific question could be whether our failure to deal with the terrorist crime is largely attributable to the suspected inefficiency of the law enforcing machinery.
We have to know if the establishment has shown a degree of indulgence to terrorist groups and if any covert sympathy has allowed the terrorists to cloak their methods in the garb of “jehad.”
One will not be far from truth to say that we were not so conspicuously religious in pre-1971 times under Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Many of us have not realised that in post-1975 Bangladesh, particularly during the last 39 years, there has been a phenomenal growth of 'madrasas' throughout the length and breadth of the country. At the same time, many mosques have been built by organisations/groups about whose credentials not much is known. Was moral rearmament or spiritual renaissance the predominant factor behind such unusual growth of religious institutions and places of worship? However, doubts would creep in as we do not see any corresponding healthy rise in public or private morality. So, the suspicion is that while the establishment, the civil society and other activists have remained in the dark about the designs and programmes of the obscurantist elements, the so-called religious extremists have grown in strength and spread their tentacles taking advantage of the ignorance and inertia.
Most terrorist activities are encouraged and sustained by an ideological inspiration. In other words, terrorism is not divorced from ideology. One has to look for the said ideological moorings. In this quest, in Bangladesh, it is strongly likely that there will be some accusatory finger-pointing towards some political party. In the event of such a possibility turning into reality, the government of the day has to take tough actions without bothering about the political fallout.
That would demand political sagacity of a very high order and may be a tall ask in our perilously polarised polity.
There is no doubt that the battle against extremism would be long. However, since the recent violence of the so-called religious extremists is a manifest attack on the long cherished values of the mainstream, our strategy and thought process should undergo substantial change in the following manner.
Persons or institutions having an apparent religious or ecclesiastical appearance and activity must not be out of bound for the surveillance agencies. Those creating credible suspicions must come within the ambit of threat perception and appropriate legal action shall be started forthwith. Preempting their nefarious activities should engage the uppermost attention of regulatory authority.
The aforementioned surveillance should ensure that no one is allowed to interpret and propagate a distorted version of the holy books. Our inherently religious folks must not be allowed to be misled.
The so-called religious extremists committing violence should be treated like criminals and no element of respectability should be accorded to them.
Institutions not playing the national anthem and disrespecting the national language must come under adverse attention and be subjected to effective punitive measures.
Institutions imparting religious training and the madrasas should be a focal point for inspection and monitoring with a view to rendering their students into employable individuals.
Last but not the least, as a nation, we must not suffer from any identity crisis as some mischievous quarters would like us to. The Pakistanis thought we were lesser Muslims. Their 'Islamisation drive' resulted in a colossal tragedy. It is time perhaps to once again show our true grit. Our politicians must not be heedless.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.